Values of Local Church Discipline, Pt. 5

When You Are the Only One That Is Right - you may be wrong!

Most people have experienced what it is like to be around a person who knows everything about everything. Mention any subject, and immediately a friend becomes an expert on whatever it is. If one makes any effort to correct some lack of knowledge about the matter under discussion, he seems not to hear. He appears not to realize that at times, at least, he does not know what he is talking about. In his eyes he is always right. Proverbs cautions such persons repeatedly with words like, “Hear instruction and be wise, and do not disdain it” (8:33). One would think that no person would ever knowingly want to be such a know-it-all individual.

Then some other person will act as if he is never certain of what he believe about anything. If one happens to be with him in different settings, he is surprised to hear him side with whatever view those hold who discuss a given subject. He is not only surprised but actually irked by the experience. The Bible refers to such persons as those who are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7).

Then, not infrequently in moments of discouragement one may feel that he is the only one who is right, when in fact many others hold to the same views as he does. This happened to no less a mighty prophet than Elijah. He fled for his very life from Jezebel, his archenemy. Understandably despondent, Jehovah came to comfort him. The man of God poured out his heart before the Lord. He told Jehovah that he had been very zealous for Him while others in the nation had torn down His altars and killed His prophets. Then he declared, “I alone am left; and they seek to take my life” (1 Kings 19:10). The prophet may have been surprised to hear the response, “I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal” (18).

While most want to avoid dogmatism in their lives, the Bible provides directions for a balance between the extreme personalities illustrated above.

On the one hand, this requires that one not be an individual who is “carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). What he must do instead is, as Paul said, to “test all things” (1 Thess. 5:21a). Then having determined what Truth is, he must “hold fast what is good” (1Thess. 5:21b). Further the apostle repeatedly taught young ministers in the Pastoral Epistles that they must maintain sound or healthy doctrine at all times (Titus 2:1).

Sometimes a person must actually “contend for the faith” (Jude 3), even when it seems he is the only one who is right. Paul was once in that position. He felt forced to confront Peter concerning a critical error in his theology and practice (Gal. 2:11-16). The error centered on the question of whether or not Gentiles must keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved.  Earlier the two apostles had stood together by answering, “No,” to the question (Acts 11:1-18). When confronted by Judaizers at a hearing in the Church Peter recounted his ministry to Gentiles in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:24-48). At the end he boldly proclaimed that those Gentiles were saved by faith in Christ alone.

However, later in a visit to Paul’s home church at Antioch Peter withdrew from eating with Gentile converts out of fear of the Judaizers (Gal. 2:11-12). Even Barnabas, along with other Jewish believers followed his lead (13). That is when Paul publicly “withstood him [Peter] to his face because he was to be blamed” (11). Apparently at the moment he stood alone in defense of the purity of the gospel.

Would it have been better if the apostle had approached Peter privately about the matter?

Certainly, what he did was better than discussing the matter behind Peter's back. MacArthur responds with, "Because Peter's offense was public, Paul rebuked him in the presence of all, unmasking his hypocrisy before the whole congregation. Every believer in Antioch and doubtlessly many unbelievers as well, knew that Peter was no longer associating with Gentiles as he had once done so freely and openly.  Unless the sin of a believer is dealt with publicly, people will think the church does not take sin seriously and therefore gives tacit approval of it. A church that does not discipline sinning members (including the most prominent members) loses its credibility because it does not take seriously its own doctrines and standards." (John MacArthur, Jr The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians. [Chicago: Moody Press, 1987], p. 54).

Is it possible that Paul was so disappointed with Peter and even Barnabas that he momentarily lost control and showed an unchristian attitude in what follows in this account?

Some scholars suggest that to be the case. Instead, Paul's public confrontation served the brethren well. Subsequent history suggests they accepted his correction. MacArthur counsels here that " . . truth is more important than outward harmony and peace. Christian fellowship and unity are built on truth, never falsehood. No matter what the beneficial prospects might seem to be from a human perspective, compromise can do nothing but weaken the church. Peace that is preserved by compromising God's truth is the pseudo-peace of the world and is not of God." (MacArthur, p. 52).

Much more than insignificant hair-splitting arguments between theologians is involved in this case.

At issue is the whole matter of eternal life or eternal death. If Paul had not stood almost alone in this case and others, including his defense of the gospel against the inroads of Gnosticism, its message would have been lost in that cyncretistic heresy or it would have become no more than an appendage to Judaism.

Selected Bibliography

MacArthur, John Jr. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians. Chicago: Moody Press, 1987.